This shop offers a world of difference

Doodads: A Havre de Grace store offers crafts from around the world.

October 24, 2004|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"People have really embraced fair trade," said Becky Collins behind the counter of her shop, just a stone's throw from the Susquehanna River at 308 St. John St. in Havre de Grace. The shop is called Doodads Inc.

Inside are two floors of items from around the world. The store promotes fair trade with local and international artisans.

The shop opened in May last year. Because items are not mass-produced, what you see on one day may not be there the next. Collins has a knack for acquiring more items through fair/alternative trade organizations such as SERRV, Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation Vocations International. SERRV was started after World War II to market crafts for Europeans suffering from the war.

If you window shop, you can spot the "Iron Men" Botswana figurines sent to Collins from Madeline and Puso Kirby. The Kirbys operate Mokolodi Trading Co. in Botswana.

Madeline Kirby attended C. Milton Wright High School. During a semester of studying abroad, she met her husband, Puso, a citizen of Botswana. After she moved there, they exported the Basarwa products of bows and arrows, ostrich egg shell jewelry, baskets and paintings.

Bringing art from African villages is something Madeline Kirby wants to do to support the Basarwa people, who are considered the earliest inhabitants of Botswana and the second-largest group of hunter/gatherers in Africa.

"Becky is so supportive of what we are doing. We wish there were more shops like hers and more people like her who truly care," Kirby said.

Collins has a variety of "doodads" from India and Pakistan. The shop also carries local arts. For $25, there is a choice of colorful woven scarves from Bel Air knitter Judith Harris.

"For the most part, people are suddenly relaxed ... when they come in here. [The shop] has a calming effect on people." Collins said.

World music plays in the background. There are three CDs for sale called Nada Brahma by Burtonsville musician Tim Gregory.

Onyx lamps or an onyx jewelry box in greens, cream or black, goat toe nail rattles and exotic wooden stringed musical instruments might not be for everyone. But items like the singing bells from Nepal or a hanging gong from Vietnam and some other instruments get a lot of attention. So do "Tuffets," which are ottomans made in Vermont of shapes like bear or turtle with the motto, "Please don't feed us; we're already stuffed."

Children like to buy slide whistles, Indian flutes or reversible cloth dolls from Nigeria. Thumb pianos, a croaking wooden frog and bronze farmer's symbols from Nepal are tempting purchases at $19.50. Juju bean pods on a stick from Cameroon are also popular. Metal wall hangings from Haiti are made from recycled oil drums. Some depict a tree of life while others portray musicians.

Everything is displayed with the intent to invite patrons to be educated and relaxed, Collins said.

The three-story building housing the shop was built in 1835 and once was home to a jewelry shop. The building faces the waterfront and East for good morning light. Under the siding there is red brick. Collins and her husband, Joseph Charles Collins, an Aberdeen Proving Ground statistician, plan to renovate the building one day.

Joseph, has organized the shop by loading point-of-sale and cash register express programs. "I get seven crates of stuff, and I can load it into inventory and put it out within two hours," Becky Collins said.

The place has "good vibes" said Collins, who used her inheritance from her father to buy the building for $145,000.

As director of sales for the Hess Hotel Group in Edgewood, she found corporate life too stressful. "With her people skills, marketing intuition, an artist's eye, and humanitarian inclinations, fair/alternative retail trade is a perfect fit for Becky," said her husband.

Her inspiration is SERRV International's New Windsor outlet.

The store is run by the Church of the Brethren, and "they're all fair trade. I was very familiar with the shop," she said.

She discovered she could wholesale as an independent retail store and started with three vendors. She has not joined an organization but gets her products from those she knows deal in fair trade.

"We sell fair trade, so you'll see things from all around the world, and we also have some local artisans. And all of our items are handcrafted."

She sells soaps and creams from Judy Bates Sylvan Moon Soapworks, which she discovered at the Havre de Grace Farmers' Market.

"They sell like hotcakes," Collins said.

Her friend Robin Stefan of Timonium sells stained glass in the shop.

Ryan Stehlik, who sells his black-and-white photographs at Doodads, graduated in 1998 in photography from Harford Community College and had studied with retired photographer Jack Radcliff.

"I love the native African and South American art and the whole idea of making sure the artisans get what they deserve," Stehlik said.

Sara Morton, who markets husband Richard Morton's watercolors, said, "I love Havre de Grace, and Becky's shop is specially made for that place." Her late husband has loyal customers who buy the art at Doodads.

"I think a certain number of people are interested in touching the rest of the world in positive ways instead of aggressive ways or just being isolated from it," Collins said.

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